Roger Waters, former songwriter for Pink Floyd, is no stranger to producing politically-charged, socially-aware music. From the Orwell class war of ‘Animals’, to the anti-war balladry of ‘The Final Cut’, Waters has been revered for his activist poetry. ‘Is This the Life We Really Want?’ is Waters’ first solo album since 1992’s ‘Amused to Death’, excluding his brief foray into opera, and the overall poignancy of the album seems to take the songwriter of the seventies, bring him into today’s political climate, and have him realise that very little has changed.
“Who gives a fuck? It’s never really over” mumbles Roger on ‘When We Were Young’, the album’s sound collage introduction. Surely at this point, diehard Floyd fans are salivating, with the record starting with a short papier-mâché of sound effects, that’s about as Pink Floyd as you can get. This leads us into ‘Déjà vu’, which holds one of the most spectacular narratives on the album, with Waters first putting himself in the place of God, and then in the place of a military drone, a subject similarly echoed on ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’, that sees the life of a young girl in a foreign land taken from her.
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The album bears a lot of Floyd-isms, both lyrically and musically. The title track sees Waters animatedly launch a tirade while listing numerous groups of people, almost in that ‘The Wall’, faux-dictator kind of way. On ‘Picture That’, Roger sings the phrase “wish you were here in Guantanamo Bay”, a self-reference that fits in well with the vast amount of musical moments reminiscent of classic Pink Floyd. Let’s list a few…
Multiple chord passages in ‘Déjà vu’ sound like ‘The Show Must Go On’ from ‘The Wall’, you can just about imagine the chorus vocal from that song about to come through the speakers. ‘Picture That’ includes a rampant bassline almost lifted from ‘Sheep’, with a melody line going over it that takes its notes from ‘The Thin Ice’. ‘Smell the Roses’ has a ‘Have a Cigar’ feel. The beautiful ‘Broken Bones’ sounds like multiple songs from ‘The Final Cut’, perhaps most like ‘Paranoid Eyes’. Speaking of ‘The Final Cut’, we end with a three-song suite that includes ‘Wait for Her’, ‘Oceans Apart’ and ‘Part of Me Died’ that sounds directly inspired by said album. It’s also worth noting that ‘Wait for Her’ includes similar vocal melodies to ‘Déjà vu’, giving this album its own connection between songs.
Pointing out this album’s similarities to previous work isn’t meant as an insult. It’s great to be reminded that Roger Waters can still make powerful music after such a long absence, while keeping his quintessence. It’s great that he managed to come back and let his heart bleed once again; he’s one of the kingpins of soaring, emotional music, and this album is just as emotional as his greatest work, and perhaps his darkest yet, still with some light.
‘Is This the Life We Really Want?’ is out now via Columbia